With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2019 season. Today we start off with the Seahawks' quest to recapture the momentum they used to finish the 2018 season strong. Tomorrow we'll turn our attention to how the offense hopes to improve as it heads into its second season under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and offensive line coach Mike Solari.
Two days after the Seahawks saw their 2018 season come to an end in a playoff loss at Dallas, head coach Pete Carroll was more upbeat about the future than he was disheartened by his team's wild card defeat.
"I love this team, I love where we're going and it's going to be more competitive than ever," Carroll said.
Carroll was so optimistic despite a disappointing loss because of the way his team came together to close out the 2018 season. In a season plenty of people outside of the building were describing as a rebuilding year, the Seahawks went from a 4-5 start to winning six of their final seven regular season games to make the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years under Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
With training camp on the horizon, one key to Seattle's 2019 season will be how well this year's team can recapture the formula that helped last year's group finish the year so strong. No NFL team is exactly the same from year to year, but with less turnover taking place this offseason, and with the coaching staff relatively unchanged from 2018, the Seahawks hope they can pick up where they left off and continue last year's growth.
"The season was a season of growth, progress and proving and coming to grips with who we are and what we can do, in a great fashion," Carroll said in January. "It was a marvelous season of work with our guys. It was so much fun to see these guys grow and to see them see the future and go for it and not take a step back at any time as far as how they went about it and took to the challenge. We come out of here with a great feeling about our future."
Carroll is excited about the future in large part because of the more tangible signs of growth his team showed in the second half of last season, particularly on offense. The Seahawks, who led the NFL in rushing yards with 160.0 yards per game, averaged 30.0 points per game over their final eight games, which was the third-highest mark in the NFL over that span. The Seahawks also had 73 explosive plays from Week 10 until the end of the year, tied with Kansas City for the most in the league, though the Chiefs accomplished that in one fewer game thanks to a later bye week.
But what the Seahawks are also hoping to recapture isn't just a specific style of play, but something that is harder to quantify. As Carroll and several players said repeatedly last season, the 2018 team had a unique level of team chemistry.
"There is just a real upbeat aura about this team," is how Carroll described it in November.
Added middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, "It's definitely one of the more fun teams for sure… The youth definitely brings a lot of excitement."
The Seahawks indeed did get younger last season, and they head into camp with 22 rookies on the roster, 11 draft picks and 11 undrafted free agents. That incoming class, along with free agency additions and subtractions, means this year's team will have to find its own chemistry even as it tries to build off of last year's success, but following offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp, Carroll liked what he had seen from this year's team.
"The attitude—this locker room, coming from last season, you could tell it was a special group," Carroll said on the final day of minicamp last month. "They have a way about themselves where they really care about getting along. They want to get along, they want to be part of this thing together. And they've been very open about that. So it has been a great group to work with. It really has been. I'm so excited about it, because every day they come and they're having fun and working hard and pulling for one another, and they're competing too. That's really as much as we can hope for at this point, and now we've got to come back and get really good. We've got to get good in all kinds of areas. The makeup and the mentality are really right. We should be fine there."
Carroll, Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson have all noted that last year felt something like 2012, Wagner and Wilson's rookie year in which a young team found its way midway through the year, building confidence to go onto bigger things the following season.
"I really compare it to 2012," Wilson said midway through last season. "It really reminds me of that year when nobody was really thinking anything. We were just young guys, great players, and veterans who played great. There's nothing we can't do, that's what we believe."
We all know what happened after 2012, and while it's unfair both to the 2019 Seahawks and to the 2013 Super Bowl-winning team to make that comparison in July, what is relevant to this discussion is the demonstration of how a young team coming off of a strong finish to one season can carry that momentum into the following year if they find the right combination of talent and chemistry.
"We took a big jump this year," Carroll said in January. "I think we have a real clear understanding of what we are trying to get done, and how we are going to go about it. The challenges, everything was very much up front. We were very accountable, very open to the areas that we need to get better, from the coaches through the players. We took a really good step in our mentality in terms of accountability. We just got better at it. We were willing to be vulnerable in stating everything in the areas of accountability that we can improve on. We took a step in that understanding and that communication. I think that was a really instrumental part in the chemistry in what happened during this season. That's going to carry us going forward."
Soon, the Seahawks will begin preparing for a new season in which they'll see just how far that big jump can carry them in 2019.
Take a look back at some of team photographer Rod Mar's best behind-the-scenes moments from the 2018 season.